Bankers in Louisiana and Alabama, envious of the economic boom that gambling has generated on Mississippi's Gulf Coast, can't wait until their turn comes.

"We are not in a philosophical debate about whether gaming is good or bad," said Ashton J. Ryan Jr., president and chief operating officer of First National Bank of Commerce in New Orleans. "It's legal, and we view its economic impact as significant."

The Louisiana legislature approved gambling two years ago, and Alabama may grant permission for casinos to open in the next 12 months.

Betting on Casinos

Star Casino, Louisiana's first waterborne gaming establishment, is expected to begin operating this week on Lake Pontchartrain, near New Orleans, and permits have been approved for 11 other riverboat casinos in the state

Plans call for opening what will become the nation's largest land-based casino in New Orleans this spring.

The fond hope is that gambling will do for Louisiana what it did for Mississippi's Gulf Coast, which has received an estimated $300 million in capitgal development and 12,000 new jobs since the end of last year.

Stakes Are High

Mr. Ryan believes First National, the main subsidiary of New Orleans' First Commerce Corp., could make between $75 million and $100 million gaming-related loans in Louisiana and Mississippi over the next year or so.

First National has already made some loans to Star Casino and Mr. Ryan is hoping to establish depository and cash management relationships with some of the other gaming establishments.

First National got a head start through its correspondent relationship with Peoples Bank in Biloxi, the most active banker to Mississippi's gambling industry. First National, for example, handles the data processing for ATMs that Peoples Bank has installed in Gulf Coast casinos.

Mr. Ryan estimates he's also made nearly $20 million in loans to Mississippi gaming companies through loan participations with Peoples Bank and Gulf-port-based Hancock Holding Co., another First National correspondent bank.

"We view that as part of our trading territory," Mr. Ryan said, referring to the Gulf Coast.

If gambling is approved in Alabama, the main beneficiary will be Mobile, another Gulf Coast city.

James M. Hirs, city executive for the Mobile branch of Birmingham-based Amsouth Bancorp., says he expects the gaming industry to provide more deposits than loans, since most big casino developes get funding from the national money markets.

In any case, Mr. Hirs is hoping Alabama does approve gambling because money is already being sucked out of the state by Mississippi casinos on one border and the Florida lottery on the other.

"Eventually, we'll have all the disadvantages of gambling without any of the advantages," he says.

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